News Archive

posted 06/24/03

Cape Town Project Examines Intersection of Urban Issues with Biodiversity
Network of contacts could be useful to other Earth Institute Projects

In the Cape Flats area, endangered dune ecosystems of the Cape Floral Kingdom abut high-poverty neighborhoods. The goal of the CUBES Cape Town initiative is to support local programs that address human development issues while maintaining environmental conservation as a high priority. Image Credit: Benjamin Lane

The Columbia University/UNESCO Joint Program on Biosphere and Society (CUBES) has initiated a project in Cape Town, S. Africa, to study how a city with high rates of urban problems—poverty, HIV and tuberculosis, population growth in informal settlements lacking basic services—can address urban issues while protecting endangered, globally significant biodiversity and critical ecosystems within the Cape Floral Region, the smallest and most diverse of the world’s six floral kingdoms.

“We’ve established a network of contacts in Cape Town, both throughout the government and in universities, that might be useful to our partners at Columbia University and UNESCO,” says CUBES Field Coordinator Benjamin Lane, who spent over two months in Cape Town this spring setting up the project.

A major goal of the CUBES Cape Town project is to support partner institutions’ policy development and implementation by providing a mechanism for focused interdisciplinary collaboration among the many groups working on various aspects of the city’s daunting social and environmental problems. The project is mobilizing expertise and institutional knowledge in diverse sectors of government and civil society, encouraging cooperation among groups, fostering interdisciplinary perspectives, and bringing together experts from different sectors, such as scientists and university researchers with government managers and administrators, who are often working on different angles of an issue at the same time.

CUBES has established an urban working group together with partners in key municipal, provincial and other governmental agencies. The CUBES Cape Town Urban Biosphere Group is currently preparing a case study on urban sustainability in the Cape Flats area of the city, as a contribution to the CUBES international conference Urban Biosphere & Society: Partnership of Cities, which will take place at the New York Academy of Sciences in October, 2003. The Cape Town case study uses the biosphere reserve concept as a vehicle to examine the broader question of how environmental conservation and management may be developed in a socially-inclusive manner so as to provide maximum benefit to the poor people in the city and its surrounding areas.

his experimental yam plot at the Edith Stephens Wetlands Park in the Cape Flats is part of a food security project being undertaken by local NGO Abelimi Bezekhaya, in collaboration with the National Botanical Institute of South Africa and the City of Cape Town. Image credit: Benjamin Lane

CUBES has received official mandates from the City of Cape Town, the Provincial Authority of the Western Cape, Western Cape Nature Conservation Board, the National Botanical Institute of South Africa, and the South African National Parks, as well as Cape Action for People and the Environment (C.A.P.E.). Explains Lane, “These mandates are fundamentally important to the success of the project. They reflect the importance that CUBES places upon local accountability, and they allow for a much more substantial participation in the project on the part of our partners in the South African public sector.”

The Columbia University/UNESCO Joint Program on Biosphere and Society (CUBES), affiliated with the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is the first partnership between Columbia University and the United Nations. Its mission is to assist local communities around the globe in adapting to rapid environmental and societal change and to share information between societies facing similar challenges.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world’s leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.